Innovations in Plastics Recycling Offer Hope for the Future

plastics recycling

Plastic waste in a huge problem in countries all over the world. The United States alone produces 33 tons of plastic waste each year. Of that total, just nine percent goes through a proper plastics recycling process.

The problem of plastic waste today contributes to landfills overflowing,and ocean lif dying due to pollution. That is the bad news. The good news is that numerous waste management companies and environmental agencies have released advanced technology to tackle this enormous problem.

Commercial-Scale Plastic-to-Fuel Plant

Brightmark Energy, based in San Francisco, is the first waste management organization in the country to create a commercial plant for the purpose of converting plastic to fuel or wax. In May 2019, the company started constructing a plastic-to-fuel plant in Ashley, Indiana.

Despite taking nearly two years to complete, the Brightmark Energy plant in Indiana is now in full operation. The plastics recycling company expects to receive approximately 100,000 tons of plastic to covert to fuel sources. Brightmark’s main clients are manufacturing and management companies as well as environmental groups.

The Indiana plastic-to-fuel plant accepts items for recycling that other companies typically cannot convert beyond their original purpose. Examples of these items include toys, plastic film, Styrofoam cups, flexible packing material, and single-use water bottles.

Brightmark uses a patented process and equipment to convert old plastic into fuel or wax. The company’s first customers to purchase recycled oil or wax products were BP Oil of London and AM WAX based in California.

Creating Building Blocks with Recycled Plastic

Sibele Cestari recently published an article outlining the possibility of recycling discarded plastic into material used for creating buildings. Cestari is currently a research fellow studying at Queen’s University in Belfast. The article argues that all forms of polymer found in plastic are recyclable.

For example, it’s possible to convert some plastic into new products by shredding the plastic into flakes and melting it. The challenge is that polymers slowly degrade each time they go through the melting process. Cestari’s solution is to mix plastic with additives such as polyethylene terephthalate, which is a substance used for making soft drink bottles.

Another possibility is to shred plastic into filler for asphalt or decompose it through heating to create fuel. Since 2009, Cestari has worked to create a range of building materials from plastic. These materials include bricks, plastic lumber, and roof tiles.

Taking Lessons from Houston

The metropolitan area of Houston, Texas, contains the largest percentage of petrochemical manufacturers across the globe. Waste management companies from around the country look to Houston to learn more about chemical recycling opportunities.

A report published in early 2021 by the University of Houston and the Center for Houston’s Future indicates that the metropolitan area has the capacity to host 100 advanced plastics recycling centers by 2030. Each facility would have the technology to process more than 25,000 pounds of recycled plastic each year.

Accomplishing this goal would mean a reduction in annual greenhouse gas emissions of 10 million metric tons. It would also create 15,000 jobs.

As each of these scenarios demonstrate, corporations are no longer passive when it comes to reducing the scourge of plastic waste. Hopefully, this is only the start of even better things to come with plastics recycling.

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